The Learning Curve
Everyone seems so much better at this parent thing than I am. At least that’s the way I feel much of the time. True, I’m only 3 weeks in, but I find my myself looking across the street at the women who enter the office building nearby each morning and wondering to myself, “Has she been here? In these first new weeks? Wow. And what about her? All these women before me may have done this.” I see the teen moms on TV shows and think to myself, “Amazing. They’ve done this. Well done.” It’s like this veil has been lifted and I see other mothers for what they are and have always been, creatures made of strength and resilience, unmatched in their natural capabilities.
I know for Jeff, this is his third child whereas it is my first… So the way we operate will inevitably be different. He has more experience. He knows what works and what doesn’t work, even though this is a new baby and all babies are different. Sometimes I feel like there’s definitely a learning curve for me. Sometimes I feel as though maybe I’m too selfish to be someone’s mom. I get frustrated when I’m running on empty and have had little sleep. I sigh. I say, “ouch!” when his tiny little nails sharply rip at my chest and neck as I rock him to sleep for the twentieth time, overtired and dead on my feet. I don’t feel like my best self in those moments and I wonder how people do this with smiles on their faces 100% of the time.
I try to remind myself that no one has a smile 100% of the time and that maybe what I see in others is just the tip of the iceberg and there’s so much more below the surface that is not always rosy. I wouldn’t trade my new role for anything in the world… I love my son, I love my life, and I love that I am lucky enough to be home on maternity leave for several weeks in a beautiful house my husband customized just for us. I feel blessed to have parents who can give me their time and attention, their help and love. I am grateful for all of the amazing and generous gifts people have given me and my son Thor. I hold my beautiful son with a grateful heart.
Still, sometimes in the dark of night when I’m the only one awake and the dim light of the TV screen is the only thing bearing witness, I wonder if I am any good at this. If my son is crying and I have already fed him and changed him and held him and sung to him and rocked him, what else can I do? What am I missing? Why is he still crying? What should I be doing differently? What am I doing wrong? Sometimes I selfishly whisper, “Mama is so tired. Mama wants to go to sleep.” It shouldn’t be about me. It should be about him, my helpless son who looks to me for everything right now. He can’t tell me what he’s feeling. He can’t tell me what’s wrong or right. He can’t tell me what he needs. I have to guess. I have to know. I have to anticipate.
My dog follows me around sometimes in the middle of the night, as though she too thinks I need extra help. Like maybe there is something she can do for me. When Jeff relieves me, usually in the wee hours of the morning before he gears up for work at 5:30 AM, Thor always seems to settle so easily for him in those big, strong, calm hands. When Jeff offers to help, I often refuse it, because I want to nurse my baby. I am his sustenance. I am the milk machine. I am the mama. Breastfeeding is a one (wo)man job. Only when I’m truly exhausted do I let Jeff feed him from a bottle the milk I’ve pumped.
I’ve noticed how in sync the baby and I are right now. I will often wake up only to look at the monitor and see him asleep. Suddenly, he will wake and cry. It’s almost as though my body knows he is about to stir and need me just a moment before it happens. His cry is not what wakes me… It is some strange sixth sense...some kind of connection between mother and son.
Sometimes I sing him every song on the playlist I created especially for him… And he looks at me as though he’s known me all my life. I dance around the room with him late at night, moving softly in my bathrobe and slippers through the obstacles of couches, fireplace, dining table, cats and dog. I sway back-and-forth, cupping his little head, rocking him in my arms, and marveling at how much he looks like the man I love more than anything.
There is so much depth to this role of mother. I want to be the best at everything I do. It’s the way I’ve always been. But this… at this I am not the best. I am always learning. It’s like being back in school, finding my feet one day at a time.